Aug 13, 2020

How to stand out in the world of online education?

Teaching & Learning 4 min read last updated on: Sep 01, 2020

It is frequently said that the only way out of a price war is through a quality war. Currently, under pressure from a number of directions, business schools are competing for the attention of potential students in a very unique context of social distancing, travel bans and geo-political tension. Distance learning was already well-established in some schools, even if there was a persistent perception that it wasn’t as good as the in-class experience. With the disruption caused by the coronavirus, however, the resistance to distance learning suddenly vanished, as it was recognized that the distance in fact solved the direct public health problem rather easily. What it didn’t necessarily address in many cases was the question of quality.

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Standing out in the academic world


In the rush to keep things running, some people had to cut corners. Conferencing software provided a short-term fix to a major problem. Although most people got used to holding meetings online, teaching and learning proved more difficult, especially for those that were not sufficiently equipped or trained. A new expression entered the educational vocabulary: emergency remote teaching, the opposite of what business schools wanted to obtain: effective online education.


Very quickly, faculties were overloaded trying to understand a whole new skill. Having to work with immature solutions and the lack of experience resulted in disappointing learning outcomes. The results were mixed, to a degree where some people wonder if the rush to go online might not have dissuaded very many people.
Specialists such as Vijay Govindarajan, Coxe distinguished professor at Tuck School of Business, are clear: “What we did in spring 2020 is not online education,” he says. “We took face-to-face and pushed it on Zoom. For me, digital education is how you use digital technology to transform the learning experience.”

Digital education is how you use digital technology to transform the learning experience.

Vijay Govindarajan, Tuck School of Business
Conferencing tools are handy, particularly in the short-term. But they reduce all communications down to the same experience, whether that be an online team coffee break or high-level teaching. Differentiating from competing academies or institutions is difficult as the platform flattens the experience that is available to both the students and faculty. 

Put pedagogy first

Despite a few shipwrecks, distance learning is nonetheless bringing a competitive edge to those that use it wisely. The answer is to choose a platform built for educational purposes that best matches your school’s pedagogical needs. How important is engagement and interaction in your typical programs? Remember that engagement and results often go hand-in-hand. It is proven that a prolonged lack of clear visual feedback can be very off-putting for tutors. It’s important that your distance learning platform allows for all this from both the student and tutor’s’ perspectives. (For more about choosing the perfect virtual classroom for your purposes, check Anke Smolders-Aidam’s 9 Tips.)
Only by putting pedagogy first, also in the online world, can you enable the faculty to teach in a more natural, interactive way, and ensure that the school can be judged on the actual quality of its education instead of price.



Data: the next step forward in learning

In the AMBA report “Business School Leaders Research: The Future of Technology in Management Education”, 95% of Business School leaders stated that “big data” is either ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ important to their establishments.


In addition to increasing engagement, polls, hand-raising, questions and quizzes provide business schools and in particular teachers with data they can use. Tracking in-class responses, tutors can follow just how well a course is being assimilated by the participants. They get to understand students’ learning behaviors, and where they are excelling or struggling. Gathering data like this opens the door to a more personalized learning journey, knowing that personalization is one of the key drivers in the digital world. 
University College London Hospitals are already considering the next step: quantified assessment. “If you run a typical [remote] classroom and five or six people turn up, you’re not really sure who is listening or what they have taken in,” according to urologist Dr Justin Collins. “They often get signed off with a tick at the end and they are told they can progress to the next stage. But if you do this in a more digital way, you get the data to assess them in real time and to say ‘We know this person is quality assured and can move on to the next stage’.” Read more about the use of data in improving learning.

Virtual classrooms: exploring blended learning and hybrid classes

Not only a pedagogy-first approach and data are crucial to differentiate in the online world, also the teaching model you apply. When it comes to virtual classrooms, different teaching models can be used, such as blended learning or flipped classrooms. Consultant and trainer Gerry Murray has been coaching professionals on- and offline for a good number of years. “The thinking behind the flipped classroom is that people come into the room having done the preparation around the more conceptual stuff, such as understanding the kind of terminology and the models. When you get into the room, we can make it incredibly experiential and very interactive. In this context, the teaching role moves from instructor, which has already been delivered online, to one of facilitator or coach. This is very powerful for all involved.”
Apart from the place you give the virtual classroom in the learning mix, virtual classrooms also come in different forms and shapes. Some offer the ability to run either full remote or in a hybrid format, where the faculty faces a combination of in-class and remote students. This means participants can choose to attend in person or from other locations offering an unparalleled level of flexibility for the school and the students. This is the set-up that earned the KU Leuven in Belgium a EUNIS award for its virtual classroom in 2020. 

Showcase what you do well

At the time of writing this, colleges and business schools are facing what seem like daunting choices. “The choice of medium may be driven by circumstances, such as lockdown. However, it is more useful to think of this choice in relation to desired outcomes,” according to Murray.
Moving away from quick-fix solutions, the right distance learning solution allows business schools to showcase the elements that enable them to stand out – their pedagogical approach and excellent quality teaching – while enjoying the benefits of distancing and greater convenience. This provides much-needed differentiation and helps secure their place in potential students’ shortlists. 
To experience for yourself why leading business schools are turning to our weConnect Virtual classroom to stand out in the online world, join one of our free sessions on ‘The Future of Learning’.


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